U.S. Policy Toward Russia in the Yeltsin Era
THE END OF THE COLD WAR LEFT THE UNITED STATES AS THE SOLE superpower, and its former adversary, the Soviet Union, existed no longer. Overnight Moscow became the ruler of a shrunken realm, its dimensions more comparable to the Russia of the early seventeenth century than the expanding power of recent history. But the Russian Federation still retained a formidable nuclear arsenal and large armed forces. It also contained raw materials, markets, skilled workers, and industrial resources important, if not crucial, to the economies of surrounding states.
The recession of Russian power also presented the United States with fundamental challenges, albeit of a more welcome nature than it had faced for five decades. By 1992, George Bush’s late cold war call for a Europe “whole and free” appeared tantilizingly close to realization. Russia’s sudden lurch away from Communism and empire freed Europe of the fear of war after the bloodiest century in its history; and Moscow’s new profession of interest in economic and political reform offered the prospect of free market democracies encompassing the entire continent.
This giddy prospect was soon tempered by a series of hard questions about U.S. policy and U.S.-Russian relations. Should Moscow’s withdrawal from Central Europe be accompanied by Washington’s retirement from Central Europe, specifically a lessening of its commitment to NATO? Was the perennial question of whether Russia was truly a “Western power” now to be answered by including or excluding Moscow from the postwar European security arrangement? What weight should the new Russia play in U.S. policy: defeated superpower or new partner, or perhaps both? And how could the United States and its allies assist the promising Yeltsin government along the painful road of remaking Russia?
A president of the United States could not answer these ques-